Discipleship is not a short-term process. It is a question of where they are going to be 5, 10, 20, 30+ years from now. That is something Doug Fields and I both agree upon. In his breakout workshop, Doug goes explains some “Essentials of Youth Ministry Discipleship.” Above all, he reminds us that “We do the possible with faith that God will do the impossible.”
Doug breaks these essentials down into three main areas: what we believe, which is all about our discipleship philosophy; who we are, which is all about our discipleship qualities; and what we do, which is more of the practical program initiatives.
What we believe… (Discipleship Philosophy)
- Spiritual growth must be about “on their own.” Kids are walking away from the church because they are too often committed to a program or a person. When they go off to college, where the program and people are gone, they do not know what to do. We need to help them grow on their own!
- Reproducible discipleship is relational-based. Jesus didn’t just teach the Disciples. He hung out with them.
- One person cannot disciple everyone. This is a game changer. It empowers your volunteers. When the lead youth worker gives the other leaders his or her title, the ministry will succeed. Any issues that come up, go to the volunteer leader first. If we are really going to be effective as lead youth workers, we have to spend time with leaders and parents.
- Failure, doubt, and pain paves the way to spiritual growth. We need to look for those opportunities as big movements toward discipleship.
- Students can reproduce themselves. High school kids can disciple middle school kids. Churches need to think about how they can use their juniors and seniors as leaders and disciplers.
Who are we… (Discipleship Qualities)
- We are visionaries of teenage spiritual growth. Students are not the future of the church. They are the church today. We cannot not just asking them to sit in the church, we need to ask them to be the church.
- We are examples of spiritual growth. Kids don’t remember your messages. They remember you, your passion, the way you treat your spouse, the way you comment on homeless people, etc. Often times, we allow the work of God to kill the work of God in us.
- We are transparent with our journey. Teens need to know that we struggle and fail. If they think all the adult leaders are perfect, it defeats the ministry. When we are open, we give them hope.
- We are relational in our approach. Youth ministry is relational.
- We are tender in our response. Kids are going to mess up, and we need to respond in tenderness. 1 Peter 5:2 gives great instruction on this. There is some hurt going on in almost every kid’s life. We need to help them figure it out and point them to the mysterious healing power of Jesus.
What we do… (Program Initiatives)
- We have to provide “beyond youth group” relational/support. Anything we do past high school is very difficult! That does not mean we should not do it, though.
- We need to motivate and maintain a climate of spiritual growth. As lead youth workers, we need to create a culture where people get tired of them having faith conversations.
- We have to go small. Evangelism and growing is important, but when people go missing in a family, we sound the alarms. Going small allows for people to live life together, where real growth can happen.
- We need to create and distribute spiritual growth resources. If they are going to grow on their own, we cannot just make it a verbal proclamation. If you really want them to grow, you need to give them the resources to do it. If kids are not asking you Bible questions, they are not reading the Bible. We need to provide something to help them read it.
- We have to help teenagers discover their unique giftings/SHAPE. They will remain active in the church when they are using gifts to serve. That way, when they graduate high school, they will desire to continue using their gifts to stay involved.
Doug has been a respected youth ministry leader for over two decades. He has authored or coauthored more than 50 books, including Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry and Help! I’m a Student Leader. With a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, Doug is the founder of SimplyYouthMinistry.com, a frequent presenter at Youth Specialties events, and a youth pastor for 29 years.